The Warship HMS Alfred (1778-1814). This magnificent 1:48 scale admiralty style model (without masts and rigging) by M. Saville Smithin is part of our shipbuilding history exhibition on deck 3 of the museum.
HMS “Alfred” was built for the Royal Navy at Chatham Dockyard from 1772 to 1778. Three master shipbuilders oversaw her construction in succession, which probably contributed to delays in her completion. The „Alfred“ was a third-rate ship of the line armed with a total of 74 guns. The shots from her 32-pounder guns could hit targets up to 1500 meters away under good conditions. Her most memorable achievement was her participation in the Battle of Cape St Vincent (16 January 1780) during the Anglo-Spanish War. This British victory proved the advantages of cladding the hulls with copper plates. This rather expensive construction technique had been known since the end of the 17th century but had usually only been used below the waterline of ships. The purpose was to protect the wooden planks from decay by algae, seawater and especially molluscs. This included above all the shipworm (teredo navalis). This mollusc, which looks like a worm, probably originated in Europe, and spread around the world on the routes of European ships. This mollusc attaches itself to wooden structures underwater by piercing and eating them. After 1780, it was found that the copper cladding of the ship’s hulls also provided minor but noticeable protection against enemy fire above the waterline. HMS „Alfred“ also took part in the battles of Chesapeake (1781), St. Kitts (1782), The Saintes (1782), Glorious 1st of June (1794), St. Lucia (1796) and Guadeloupe (1810). The Warship HMS „Alfred“ was finally decommissioned and broken up in 1814.
As the masts and rigging of a ship used to follow pre-set standards and could be altered without too much difficulty, admiralty models became the main type of construction for so-called yard models – that is, models that showed a customer the later shape of a ship he had ordered. This tradition appeared in Europe in the 17th century, and even models of hybrid ships (with both sail and steam propulsion) were built in the admiralty style until the late 19th century.